Snakes on a Plane Reviewed: The Descent Experienced

*This blog includes the original end to “The Descent”.

I did a double feature today.

Here’s how it went.

First let me speak a little about “Snakes on a Plane”. I will say that I didn’t see it at the right time. I went to a 5:10 showing, before the masses that really wanted to see this film would show up. In some ways it was a mistake, because this film is about the communal experience; the joy of sharing, and laughing at parts in which you shouldn’t. But now my thoughts are unaffected by the adrenaline of a large crowd and hopefully my response more honest.

It was pure pleasure waiting for this film to open. The curiosity of what they would do with it, then the bits and pieces released here and there, and I don’t believe I ever saw a full length trailer. My friend did however say that on television they played the now (in)famous line quoted by Mr. Jackson himself, something about the mother’s of snakes getting off the plane. Even though I knew it was coming, I’m glad I didn’t see it without the build of the rest of the film. Did I say build? Yes, there is a build to the film. Slow, then really fast.

Normally I walk into films, and the moment the film begins every expectation dissipates, and I remain open to the experience. Some films lose me right away, others grab me right away, and then there’s the in-between. But with “Snakes” do you walk in hoping it will be bad so you can laugh, hoping it will be a truly well made film, that it will be well done schlock, that it will be… what? Let me tell you. It does everything I mentioned at least twice.

The setup is pretty typical of any 80’s action movie, in fact the first 20 minutes are. Villain who looks neither menacing, nor acts menacing… nor acts, but has the random topless martial arts training scene in which we hear his laughable explanation about why he chose to put snakes on the plane in the first place – it’s laughable because, come on, how many possibilities could you exhaust before deciding that snakes on a giant air liner would be the best way to go. It would have made just as much sense if the villain’s idea had been to wait for the guy he wanted to off to cross the street and to see if he got hit by a car. It was smart to leave the villain behind once the real film took over.

The screenwriters and director, David R. Ellis, try as hard as they can to make the setup interesting and smart. They strain to. You can see them trying as hard as they can, because they know they really have nothing until the snakes appear anyway. Even Sam Jackson isn’t enough to give the film enough “umph” until his many nemeses appear. He plays it straight, so straight that he is a little boring, but when the snakes show, his performance balances the silliness of the idea well. In fact the human villains are so terribly lame and incompetent that it’s no wonder they would send snakes to do their jobs for them.

This movie would not have worked without snakes. You realize that the moment you see the snakes… it takes awhile before you do, 30 minutes into it. And when they do it takes awhile for all hell to break loose, but when all hell breaks loose the film becomes a joy to watch. David Ellis, whose pacing in last years “Cellular” made the film much more watchable than it should have been, brings some of the same light to this film. Did I mention that the snakes were vicious? Vicious! Those rascals made me jump more than once, and cringe on several occasions. And Sam Jackson does a pretty good job showing just enough annoyance, disbelief, and resolve to make the film seem somewhat plausible.

What I’m trying to say is that as the film continues, it kind of gets better. Or at least the kind of enjoyable you’d expect from a movie like this. A lot like “Arachnaphobia”, or those old creature features back in the day… “Them” is one I saw on TV as a kid – giant ants. These snakes move a little faster.

The filmmakers know this is a ridiculous idea and they don’t hide it, but they do enjoy themselves with it. And there’s a moment in the film that I wasn’t expecting at all that I really enjoyed. A clever sleight of hand used to enhance a common plot device.

The only real problem with the film is the footage they went back and shot to make it more schlocky; the sex scene in the airplane stall, the bathroom scene in the stall. It feels like it was part of a reshoot, and doesn’t quite fit into the atmosphere of the rest of the film which was shot with a more serious approach to the ridiculousness around the characters. Of course a lot of the supporting characters (the passengers on the plane) while directed to not over play any stereotype (smart choice in the end) don’t add a lot of dramatic resonance to the film.

Not everyone will enjoy “SOAP”, and you know who you’ll be. It’s pretty obvious. I wouldn’t force anyone to come see it with me.

One thing I always did like about the movie was the poster – taking from the worm arborous, snakes eating the head and tail of each other, entwined, a constant cycle. Clever.

There was also another movie poster I saw a month or so back which when I saw it, I knew the movie was going to be more than just another piece of crap schlock that American Producers would leave for teenagers to peck and pick over, and that’s probably because it was made in Britain. “The Descent” is a true nail biter. Literally my thumb nails are a couple cuticles shorter. I was tense the whole way through. What an accomplishment! I’m a difficult man to make uneasy or even scared, and this film left me feeling unsettled by the end. However the film didn’t escape completely unscathed by American Producers. They felt the original ending was a little too morbid, too sad, so they cut it. I’m not going to say much more, except that I immediately came running home, hopped on my youtube and scrounged this morsel up… the original ending. DO NOT WATCH IT UNTIL YOU HAVE SEEN THE MOVIE!

Here’s the trailer… watch this instead if you haven’t seen the movie.

This will probably be one of my favorite movies of the year, or at least the summer. It deserves the R rating. It’s violent, but smart, and that intelligence comes with an ease few films have. The title speaks volumes more for the film than any film I’ve seen in recent years. It does what horror movies should do. Instead of piling on the shock value of gore to make us feel scared (in fact when movies do this it is not my feeling that we are truly scared just completely mortified and that mortification takes the place of a real feeling or emotion) it in fact pushes the boundaries of the sanity of each character. In a situation like this, when such phenomenally potent fear grips a person and anything can happen, who do you trust and do you trust what you hear or observe? There are moments in this film where I could see as information was passed on from one character to another that the facts were slowly being twisted in the other characters mind by what they were seeing in front of them rather than what had actually happened that they did not witness. This is a truly brilliant and absorbing piece of cinema – I recommend it to all.

And believe me when I say it’s more than just a horror film. It follows such predecessors as “Alien” in the fact that it’s more about what we don’t completely see, and transcends the horror elements by becoming an action thriller motivated by character personalities and dilemmas. I wish I could write in more detail, but that would truly ruin the experience.

The only other film to impress me this much this year was “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance”.

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One Response to “Snakes on a Plane Reviewed: The Descent Experienced”

  1. jdyjnyq Says:

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